Sharon Mennonite Collegiate Institute (1945-1949) (Yarrow, British Columbia, Canada)
The Sharon Mennonite Collegiate Institute (SMCI) enrolled its first students in 1945, one year after the Mennonite Educational Institute (MEI) was established in Abbotsford. Opening originally as the Mennonite Educational Institute, it adopted the name Sharon Mennonite Collegiate Institute in January 1947. A Biblical name, it was taken from Song of Solomon 2:1, "I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valley." Due to the Depression and the rigorous demands of establishing an immigrant settlement, only a few of Yarrow’s Mennonite youth attended high school during the 1930s. In addition, many believed that the Chilliwack High School did not provide a safe environment, physically, culturally and religiously, for the Mennonite youth. Following Abbotsford's establishment of its school, Yarrow, under the leadership of Johannes Harder, quickly moved to establish its own high school.
Wartime building restrictions, limited finances, and lack of faculty necessitated combining, at first, the Bible and high schools. On 24 September 1945 the high school opened with six teachers, including Jacob Friesen from Wymark, Saskatchewan, as principal, and 150 students, enrolled in grades nine to twelve. Due to wartime restrictions on issuing building permits, the schools were temporarily housed in several buildings on the church grounds.
The school committee moved quickly to address questions of future growth. One was to add grades seven, eight and thirteen. Consequently, enrollment more than doubled in 1946; thereby compounding space problems. Plans were implemented to erect a high school building on a 10-acre plot on Wilson Road, which had been donated to the Yarrow church by Franz Friesen of Morden, Manitoba. Faculty and students were finally able to move into a new 13-classroom structure on October 1947. The Sardis, East Chilliwack and Chilliwack Mennonite Brethren Churches joined in the school project, necessitating the purchase and lease of several buses. With an enrollment of over 300 students in 1947 and the support of several churches, the school’s future seemed assured.
Philosophy and Purpose
The purposes of the school, as enunciated by School Board members, teachers and parents was to provide post-elementary education within a Christian and sheltered environment. Some, like Johannes Harder, hoped to reproduce the Zentralschule they had known in Russia, one integrating secular and religious education.
The school's founders envisioned a special kind of Christian school, one that would preserve and transmit the settlers’ Mennonite heritage. This included several aspects. One was staffing: only Mennonite teachers would be hired. Another was physical separation: the school was built in a Mennonite village, symbolizing separateness when it came to ethnic and religious identity. Furthermore, morning chapel and an expanded curriculum including courses in religion, Mennonite history and German placed spiritual development and Mennonite identity formation in the forefront.
The curriculum included the provincially prescribed courses for junior and senior high schools. While a business course was being planned in 1948, and industrial arts and Home Economics were taught, the academic subjects of languages, history, mathematics, science and music retained their central position throughout the school’s brief existence.
In addition to the prescribed programs, religion and German were emphasized. In the 1946-1947 school year, all junior high students enrolled in five periods of religion per week. Senior high students enrolled in Biblical and Church History, English Bible, Christian dogma, Church History, and Mennonite History. The importance of German was recognized by students enrolling in German classes and by faculty teaching most religion classes in the German language.
Faculty and Administration
The school itself was an institution established by and answerable to the supporting churches. In August 1945, the Yarrow MB Church temporarily combined its Bible school and High school boards, forming one school committee (Schulkommittee). Once Sardis, East Chilliwack and Chilliwack joined the project, each sponsoring church elected representatives to serve as members on the Board. Approximately 40 percent of the Board members came from Yarrow, the remainder from the other three churches. Throughout its history, the Board had only one chairman, Johannes Harder of Yarrow. He served throughout the school's brief existence as its only chairman and remained one of its greatest advocates.
Two individuals served as principal of the school. Jacob Friesen was appointed principal during the first two years of the school’s existence and Isaac Dyck for the remaining two years.
The faculty included both individuals who had received most of their education in Russia and several who had attended North American institutions. In any given year, less than 50 percent of the faculty held Bachelor degrees. Those who did usually taught the upper grades, especially grades 12 and 13, in order to prepare students for the provincial exams. Others like C. D. Toews and C. C. Peters made their mark in promoting music, German and religion.
In the spring of 1949, the SMCI School Board, unable to meet it financial obligations, turned the school over to the Chilliwack School Board. The latter retained the teachers for the remainder of the school year and paid their salaries. Ironically, the Chilliwack Board, never a supporter of the school, now became its official governing board.
The student population was drawn primarily from the Mennonite Brethren families in Yarrow, Sardis, East Chilliwack and Chilliwack. Its opening day enrollment of 150 students had increased by the winter of 1947 to 360 students, only to drop within two years to 225. A special feature was Grade 9X, designed for non-traditional students, those who had dropped out of school for a number of years. Of the 13 students enrolled in Grade 9x in 1945-46 school year, nine were promoted to Grade 11 and four to Grade 12 the next year. In March 1946, the 151 students ranged in age from 13 to 27. Fifty had previously attended Bible School. Of 333 students who attended SMCI and for whom records were available, some 70 percent were born in the Prairie Provinces: Sakatchewan (98), Manitoba (80), and Alberta (56). Sixty-eight had been born in British Columbia and some 22 had been born in Russia. Over 96 percent listed Russia as their parents' place of birth, making it truly a Russländer's institution.
The school’s fortunes reversed markedly in 1948. The Sardis community experienced a major flood in late spring. The Mennonite Central Committee assisted by contributing some money to help defray tuition costs for students from flooded areas. Later that summer, the raspberry market collapsed, forcing Yarrow’s Co-op into bankruptcy and leaving most growers with little or no money for their crops. The Board, saddled by building debts and a declining enrollment, soon found itself unable to pay the teachers’ salaries. The school itself had never won support from all the church members. Economic reversals served to bring these tensions out into the open. The Chilliwack School Board agreed to pick up the teachers' salaries for April to June, after which time the school closed. Chilliwack finally purchased the school in 1952 at a discounted price of $60,000.
Dahl, Edward H. "Sharon Mennonite Collegiate Institute: 1945-1949." Unpublished paper, University of British Columbia, 1968.
Klassen, Agatha E., ed. Yarrow: A Portrait in Mosaic. Yarrow, BC: Miss A. E. Klassen, 1976.
Neufeldt, Harvey. "The Education of the Yarrow Mennonite Community, 1928-1960," Historical Studies in Education 7 (Spring 1995): 71-95.
"Sharon Mennonite Collegiate." Konferenz Jugendblatt (May–June, 1952): 11.
Yarrow Pioneers and Settlers. "Sharon Mennonite Collegiate Institute." Web. 4 November 2009. http://www.yarrowbc.ca/mennoniteschools/smci.html.
|Date Published||June 2011|
Cite This Article
Neufeldt, Harvey. "Sharon Mennonite Collegiate Institute (1945-1949) (Yarrow, British Columbia, Canada)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. June 2011. Web. 8 Feb 2023. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Sharon_Mennonite_Collegiate_Institute_(1945-1949)_(Yarrow,_British_Columbia,_Canada)&oldid=126785.
Neufeldt, Harvey. (June 2011). Sharon Mennonite Collegiate Institute (1945-1949) (Yarrow, British Columbia, Canada). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 8 February 2023, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Sharon_Mennonite_Collegiate_Institute_(1945-1949)_(Yarrow,_British_Columbia,_Canada)&oldid=126785.
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